Curbing Corruption: Practical Strategies for Sustainable Change (Routledge 2022) by Bertram Spector

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Many anti-corruption efforts have had only a minimal effect on curbing the problem of corruption. This book explains why that is, and shows readers what does work in the real world in the fight against corruption, and why.

Counter-corruption initiatives often focus on the legal, institutional and contextual factors that facilitate corrupt behavior, but these have had only nominal impacts, because most of these reforms can be circumvented by government officials, powerful citizens and businesspeople who are relentless in their quest for self-interest. This book argues that instead, we should target the key individual and group drivers of corrupt behavior and through them promote sustainable behavioral change. Drawing on over 25 years of practical experience planning, designing and implementing anti-corruption programs in over 40 countries, as well as a wealth of insights from social psychological, ethical and negotiation research, this book identifies innovative tools that target these core human motivators of corruption, with descriptions of pilot tests that show how they can work in practice.

Anti-corruption is again becoming a priority issue, prompted by the emergence of more authoritarian regimes, and the public scrutiny of government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Straddling theory and practice, this book is the perfect guide to what works and what doesn’t, and will be valuable for policymakers, NGOs, development practitioners, and corruption studies students and researchers.

Chapter Summaries:

  1. Since the Dawn of Humankind

While there is no vaccine yet that is proven to eliminate the human corruption pandemic, committed leaders, citizens, communities, and governments need to respond meaningfully to corruption to mitigate its occurrence and its impacts. This chapter provides an introduction to what corruption is and how it impacts a country’s socio-economic development. Two short cases – from Mozambique and Ukraine – are offered to provide a detailed context about the conditions under which corruption thrives and some initial remedies that have been attempted to reduce corruption. 

  1. Are We on the Right Track? 

This chapter examines several major trends in anti-corruption reform efforts worldwide over the past 30 years. It then addresses the key question of what success looks like for such reform programs. Analysis of a sampling of these anti-corruption initiatives provides an initial look at what seems to work and what does not. 

  1. Legal and Institutional Reform Programming: What Works? 

The chapter focuses on the largest segment of anti-corruption initiatives – efforts to strengthen the legal, enforcement and institutional frameworks to ward off corrupt transactions. Several short case studies from Indonesia, Liberia, Armenia and Afghanistan are presented, among others, along with key takeaways from the range of reform efforts that have been implemented.

  1. Preventing Corruption through Accountability, Transparency and Governance Programming: What Works?

This chapter focuses on programming options that seek to prevent corruption by promoting government accountability, transparency and good governance. Typical preventive activities include strengthening professionalism and integrity, generating information openness, and preventing opportunities for corruption to occur. Several cases are described here, from the West Bank and Gaza, Russia, Liberia, Ukraine and Moldova. Based on the analysis of many initiatives in this domain, this chapter offers key takeaways on efforts that promote bureaucratic streamlining, e-governance applications, civil service reform, public financial management reforms, and sectoral programming, looking at the health, education and private sectors, in particular.

  1. Civil Society Engagement: What Works?

This chapter focuses on the critical importance of engaging civil society, in partnership with government, to promote and implement reform efforts to reduce corruption. Key takeaways are presented based on an analysis of many approaches in many countries, including Uganda, Honduras, Georgia and Sierra Leone.

  1. Anti-Corruption Programming in Post-Conflict Societies 

Do anti-corruption reforms in post-conflict countries achieve their objectives? The context is fragile and the process of rebuilding presents many opportunities for backsliding, but also for starting afresh. Research shows that interventions presented soon after a peace agreement yield better results. These anti-corruption reforms need to account for the fragile context. And active involvement of civil society and the private sector is useful in sustaining the anti-corruption results. 

  1. Activating Behavioral Change Initiatives 

Have the efforts described in the previous chapters provided sufficient incentives to stop corrupt behaviors? To some extent they have, but it’s clearly not enough. Maybe they offer a first layer of defense against corruption, but more now needs to be done to get at the deeper driving factors of corruption, for example, targeting embedded ethical, social, cultural, and psychological motivators. Personal motivation to “do the right thing,” comply with the law, and desist from corrupt behavior may require more than just fear of punishment from law enforcement. In this and subsequent chapters, we expand the literature review to consider other frameworks that target personal and group drivers of corrupt behavior, rather than depending solely on reformed institutional and legal structures. 

      8. The View through an Ethical Lens

How can ethical approaches to governance best be implemented? Are people who seek out responsible government posts ethical to start with? Obviously, many are, but some are not; hence, the continuing high rates of corruption in most countries. Recruitment of more ethical officeholders could be a first step. Training and socialization of government officials and the public on ethical approaches to behave in the public marketplace is also essential. And does there need to be more intrusive oversight and monitoring to detect when ethical principles are breached?  Original research conducted on ethical values in the legal profession is discussed and practical approaches to reinforce such values to reduce corrupt behavior are presented. Pilot tests from Indonesia and Afghanistan are offered. 

  1. The Social Psychological Lens 

This chapter looks at psychological factors that motivate or demotivate corrupt actions. Researchers focus on three critical areas: how we rationalize corrupt behaviors in a way to avoid true explanations; the effects of social norms and group conformity that keep corruption sustainable; and risk aversion by obedience to managerial oversight. Practical reform initiatives are discussed that can promote changes in behavior from a social psychological framework. Pilot tests from Ukraine, Indonesia and Afghanistan are presented.

  1. Deconstructing Negotiations to Make Bribery Fail 

Our goal in this chapter is to evaluate the role that negotiation plays in the typical bribery transaction and how those negotiation elements might be deconstructed to prevent the negotiation and, hence, the bribery from occurring. Most negotiation literature seeks to uncover the factors and conditions that are favorable to initiating effective bargaining: what situations prompt the onset of negotiation, promote negotiation or make the situation ripe for negotiation. In an unusual twist to this plot, we seek to understand what is required to stop negotiation in particular cases where the vulnerability to bribery activity is high. If the relevant criteria can be identified, the elimination of certain types of negotiation can become the central theme in national and international anti-corruption strategies. Relevant cases from Georgia and Ukraine are presented, along with pertinent survey data from Eastern Europe. 

  1. What’s Next? Assessments, Strategies and Implementation 

How can we begin to utilize these new entry points for anti-corruption reform initiatives? What next steps will allow practitioners to effectively address ethical and social psychological drivers of behavior, as well as reduce opportunities for corruption negotiations?  A comprehensive assessment mechanism is needed to strategize what might work and what might be best suited to the situation. Such an assessment tool is described in this chapter, providing an in depth look at the status of foundational factors, the context, and drivers and motivators of behavior in the targeted country. A wide range of practical guidance and recommendations is offered on how to proceed based on extensive experience conducting similar corruption assessments around the world. Ultimately, the assessment will provide the basis for designing detailed and practical anti-corruption strategies and action plans. The appendix of the book contains a list of detailed assessment questions that can be tailored to specific contexts. 

  1. Case Study: Ukraine Assessment (2005) 

The detailed findings of an assessment conducted in Ukraine are offered here to present what the results of such a corruption assessment should look like. Following the assessment findings, key elements of the resulting anti-corruption strategy for Ukraine are presented with practical recommendations for an action plan. 

  1. Additional Implementation Issues to Consider

There are many opportunities and constraints that will impact how effectively anti-corruption reforms are implemented. How men and women are affected differently by corruption is one of them and requires careful planning to ensure the desired outcomes. Another critical issue is how anti-corruption reforms address fraud and abuse in the midst of humanitarian and natural emergencies and crises. Yet another key set of issues relates to the programming priorities and problems faced by international donors that fund and provide resources for anti-corruption programming worldwide.

  1. Sustaining Anti-Corruption Reforms

Despite all the hard work and innovative thinking that goes into anti-corruption reform initiatives, they can easily disappear if funds, resources, staff, institutions and, most importantly, political will are pulled out. So, in addition to the novel approaches to motivate behavioral change that were discussed in earlier chapters, there needs to be a lot of thought given to how to sustain anti-corruption advances. One approach to promote sustainability of anti-corruption reforms – at all levels – is to embark on scaling up and scaling out campaigns to ensure that all sectors and functions are impacted, that all levels of government implement programs, and that all stakeholders in society are included and engaged in the reforms. Practical ways to implement such scaling up campaigns are offered, and pilot tests in Indonesia that use information technology (IT) approaches are presented to illustrate how it can be done. Active citizen engagement to promote demand for change and maintain social momentum is also discussed.

     15. Making Corruption Fail

The path forward for implementing innovative anti-corruption initiatives needs to address the important ethical, social psychological and negotiation drivers that have only received preliminary testing so far. Lessons learned from the many past attempts to make corruption fail present us with a set of essential principles that should improve our chances at transforming this chronic problem of corruption. One of the most important lessons tells us that just addressing a few factors – initiating just a limited campaign – is not sufficient; effectiveness requires a wide, multi-dimensional set of initiatives to be activated together in a “big push” that integrates many mechanisms, policies, dynamics and stakeholders toward the common goal. Recommendations on how to go about this campaign are discussed. The conclusions provide a range of practical ideas for policymakers, practitioners and the research community.